Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Madness? THIS. IS. PARIS!

The picture to the left depicts some modernist architect's vision of an updated Paris. And while it might be hard to imagine a sophisticated (read: wimpy) Parisian parroting Leonidas' words from 300, I'd argue Sarkozy, the French leader trying to implement a massive modernization plan in the City of Lights, deserves to be dragged to the top of the Eiffel Tower and thrown off for his treachery. The thought of turning the world's most harmonious and beautiful city into the set of Blade Runner 2 is more than I can tolerate.

David Brussat, the tireless architecture critic writing for the Providence Journal, routinely highlights the many modernist horrors inflicted upon our great cities. And I am right with him in believing that the current style of architecture is a destructive force when applied to existing cityscapes.

Yet, the part of me that thinks we have abandoned the search for the future to better enjoy the familiar comforts of the past knows that without experimentation, a city risks becoming a museum. So what to do? I think you can find a hint of the answer in New York. While the city has its classical structures, it embraced the latest techniques and trends of the time of its great expansion, the 19th and early 20th centuries. The skyscraper works in New York in a way it simply cannot in Paris, because the development happened organically and the cityscape was built around this new form.

The new styles and building techniques are not going to originate in New York, or Paris, nor should they. The growing cities of the world (for example Sao Paolo, or Shanghai) should look for approaches that solve their unique problems, and these solutions will diffuse to other cities. And even more importantly, when we find ourselves building under the ocean, or on Mars (assuming we ever do) those environments will reflect new needs and new thinking about the best way to live.

The other option is to destroy our built heritage and model our urban cores after Dubai. That is to say, a series of monumental, impressive buildings that fail to congeal into anything like a liveable, cohesive cityscape. But if that comes to pass, I think we'll have a lot of architects and leaders that we want to throw off the top of their monstrosities.

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